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Warrior helps teens wrestle with bullies

It was just the first day of school when the problems began again.

Some boy, the subject of a failed, fleeting relationship, posted a picture on a social media site with a derogatory comment underneath that brought the girl to tears.

And it wasn't the first time. Last year, when the budding romance went south, the girl came home with bruises on her body. She lied about where they came from and it was months before her parents learned the truth.

The boy also taunted and threatened her at every opportunity possible. He even threatened to harm her friends and family.

In the meantime, the girl did her best to put together a support team of friends who would help defend her honor at school. And she vowed to fight back.

Her anger, though justifiable in the face of bullying, also brought unwanted attention to her from school officials.

Fortunately, she was vindicated, but it was a rocky start to a new school year.

Scenes like this play out in schools across the nation, according to Jeff Bearden, a professional wrestler turned motivational speaker.

The Las Vegas resident meets with middle and high school students to help them stand up to bullies and inspire them to remain strong against peer pressure. He also promotes living lives free of alcohol and drugs.

His first experience with bullies came when he was growing up in Amarillo, Texas. During a recent phone conversation he told me that he was tall — 6 feet 9 inches — and skinny when he was in high school.

"Back then it was called teasing, not really the bullying label. It happened at school, but when you got home it was gone."

Social media has changed all that, and it leads kids to suicide.

"Kids don't feel there is another choice to get away from it. Kids are feeling like they don't have any place to escape," he said.

Cellphones and social media sites don't help. Everyone wants to be the next YouTube star. Instead of stepping in to help stop a situation where someone is being bullied, others are too busy videotaping the incident so that they can get their 15 minutes of fame, he said.

"One of the things I always tell people is that if something happens at school, there's always a BOB: bully, observer and bullied victim."

According to Bearden, statistics have shown that in 50 percent of the cases, the bully can be stopped if someone steps in on behalf of the victim.

"It takes a brave person to step in," he said, adding there's always that underlying fear that the bully will turn unwanted attention on the person trying to help.

The causes of bullying are many, including changes to society as a whole, divorces, single parents and kids trying to test the boundaries, he said.

Facing insurmountable odds to change the bullies' behavior, Bearden said he works to teach kids how to build their own self-esteem so that bullies' words and actions can't hurt them.

He said he saw firsthand the impact and power his words had upon others when he was working as a professional wrestler.

Bearden, who wrestled for more than 25 years under the names Giant Warrior and Tiger Steele, played the part of the villain.

Standing 7 feet tall and weighing 300 pounds he wrestled guys that were smaller than him. The more vicious he was with his opponent, the more the crowd reacted.

"Bullies want the same thing. They want that reaction," he said. "I learned the psychology of bullying because that is what I was doing — bullying the crowd."

Now, when he talks to kids, he tries to teach them the importance of making wise decisions. That includes not taking or sending photos that can one day becoming embarrassing, staying away from drugs or alcohol and positive affirmation.

He said he tells kids not to let themselves be defined by labels that people try to place on them.

"Just because someone calls you a loser doesn't mean you are one. You have to develop your own self-worth," he said.

Bearden said his pointers include telling yourself how attractive, smart, beautiful or special you are.

"Once you verbalize it, that's what the human brain hears. It doesn't distinguish who says it. You gotta be positive about yourself because you can't love anyone else until you love yourself."

Bullies be warned. There's another warrior out there to help kids wrestle with these demons.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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